Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Value of What You Do is Your Call (It Comes With a Free Thing at the End)

Sentiments like the one to the right, which was the beginning of a contentious Twitter thread about how you should price your rpg work, are essentially well meaning--but I've begun to find them more and more hectoring in tone and frequency.

I agree with much of the underlying ideology at the root of these kind of posts: reaching a state of fair wages is a conversation we should be having, creative work in rpgs is undervalued, etc. (1). But what bothers me is the assumption than anyone has a right to tell me how I should price my work and the unspoken insistence that the primary way I should find value in what I do is economic in nature.

Part of the issue, for me, is that no matter how sympathetic I am to some of the stated goals of this kind of thinking is that it reduces the creative endeavor to its capitalist expression. If "I don't care about the money" is the wrong thing to say, than it must be important to care about money. If "I'm not looking to get rich" is an errant perspective, than looking to get rich must be the correct orientation toward creative work. 

This problem is pervasive in the language used to discuss the topic. Product. Strategy. Loss leader. The assumption is that to create is to engage in commerce. I can think of a lot of reasons to give stuff away for free, none of which have to do with a lack of self-respect or a sales strategy. 

Sometimes I give stuff away for free because I don't think of it as a "product." Sometimes I just want to share something without making a transaction out of it. Sometimes it means more to me that someone finds a use for the thing I made than me getting beer money out of it. Sometimes I want to pay it forward because of all the free stuff I've gotten use out of or enjoyed (2).

But don't take what I'm saying here as prescriptive. The best answer for you is the one you're happy with. I think you should charge as much (or as little, or nothing) for your creative work as you want. $200 deluxe hardcover, $10 handmade 'zine, $1 pdf, pay-what-you-want for a full game, or zero-cost "here's a Google Drive link," it's your choice.

Sometimes I give things away for free (every episode of my podcast, all the posts on this blog, and the occasional free pdf) and other times I set a price I'm comfortable with (the books and pdfs published under the Dolorous Exhumations imprint). I get to make that call because it's my work. I resent being told I should be ashamed to make that call.

The screencaps used in this post are not intended to harangue anyone for voicing their sentiments; the examples I've used here just outline the shape of what I'm addressing, and I've made them anonymous because I don't want this to be a "call out"(3). As I have said previously in this post, I think they're coming from a place of magnanimity and solicitude. But what I ask for is simple courtesy: please do not tell me how and why I should value what I do, and I'd appreciate it if you don't imply that what I do only has cogent meaning if I attach a dollar value to it. appreciate your concern, and I acknowledge that your opinion is well intentioned, but you do you. 

Unless you're pushing that "Devaluation of creative work" line, of course--I totally get why people are dunking on that. That shit can take a hike, especially if you follow it up with some but you're harming the community rhetoric. I'm not putting my hand in your pocket and if you're taking the tack of shaming people into compliance, I'm pretty sure we do not share a community in common (4).

(1) - Something I never (conveniently, perhaps) see: any indie game designers note that they pay their playtesters a living wage.
(2) - In fact, much of what I've done creatively wouldn't have been possible save for the generosity of people making free software available. Makers of open source software like LibreOffice, I salute you.
(3) All of the screencaps come from public, non-locked accounts, however, so I'm not putting anyone on blast here. For the record, the four posts I capped came from three separate Twitter accounts.
(4) - I have strong doubts that anyone who has ever played the what about the community? card on me reads my blog, has promoted my creative work, or purchased anything I've made. No one is obligated to, obviously, but it's rich to claim that we're bound by some notion of communal standards of support that clearly aren't reciprocal.

* * *

Oh, hey, a free thing!

If you click here you will be taken to the pdf of a supplement called A Fistful of Cinders. This pdf is an expansion for my Cinderheim setting, and I'm offering it to you for free. 

A Fistful of Cinders started as a challenge to make twelve pregenerated characters (one for each 5e D&D class), themed around the tropes and conventions of the Western genre. We're firmly in Western + Fantasy territory here.

Then I decided that those characters needed to be a posse, and that the posse needed a reason to I made a few random tables that generate a situation that calls for the posse to ride out into the wastes and seek justice. 

Eventually it came together as a playset intended for a one-shot game when your group is missing a few players but you want to play something anyway. Think of it as a stop-gap, but I won't be mad at you if it leads to a longer campaign at your table.

Of course, since I'm all about choice, if you absolutely must throw money at me for my creative work (in the name of community, perhaps) then you can always pick up something from Dolorous Exhumations Press over at DriveThruRPG. If you like A Fistful of Cinders, The Liberation of Wormwood is the most similar in tone and purpose.